Occupational Therapy and Spinal Cord Injury

May 23, 2016 | 8:00 am | By Pants Up Easy

A spinal cord injury is a catastrophic, life-changing event. Just how devastating the effects of the injury will be will depend on how severe the injury is, and where on the spinal cord it happens. The spinal cord is a bundle of nerve tissue that connects the brain to the rest of the body and carries information back and forth. If an injury interrupts the spinal cord’s ability to carry that information, it will result in a loss of sensation or a loss movement in the parts of the body below the level of the injury.

What’s the prognosis for spinal cord injury?

Unfortunately there is no cure for a spinal cord injury per se. Nerve tissue doesn’t regenerate, so once the spinal cord is broken, it is not going to heal. However, with proper support and therapy, it is possible for people with spinal cord injuries to resume somewhat of a more functional and meaningful life.

What is occupational therapy?

It’s not, as its name might suggest, therapy to help you deal with job and career issues. In this sense, “occupation” refers to activities. What occupational therapy actually does is to help people restore well-being in their lives by assisting them in performing the activities that they need or want to do. These activities, or occupations include vital life functions, like eating, dressing, and going to the bathroom. But they also include activities that bring meaning and happiness to one’s life, such as social interactions, recreation, and even sexual activity.

What can occupational therapy do for spinal cord injury victims?

As we’ve already mentioned (and as I’m sure you already know), there is no quick fix or cure for a spinal cord injury. Occupational therapy (OT) for SCI patients is a long-term process of working to readjust to one’s life. It’s going to require new ways of learning to do things, as well as changes to one’s lifestyle and environment. Some of the ways that an OT can help people with spinal cord injuries include:


A lot of what an occupational therapist does could really fall under the role of a “teacher”. Activities that were formerly easy to do and taken for granted may now be difficult or impossible for the spinal cord injury patient to do. Occupational therapy professionals can help the patient learn new ways of performing those tasks, or find other ways of accomplishing the same goals.

Recommending Environmental Modifications

Some of the elements of one’s own home or workplace may add additional challenges for someone who suddenly finds himself paralyzed. Other features of one’s home may make certain activities downright dangerous. Occupational therapists are trained to analyze the home and work environment, and suggest modifications to enable the patient to get around. These might include wider doorways and hallways to make room for a wheelchair to pass through more easily, modifications to bath or shower, and wheelchair-friendly ramps in place of hazardous stairs.

Recommending equipment

Fortunately, with modern technology, there is quite a number of devices which can really make life easier for SCI patients. With so many to choose from, one of the benefits that OT can provide is an understanding of which of the devices will provide the greatest level of help to the patient. These are likely to include wheelchairs, and electric beds, as well as lifting devices, including our own unique devices to help spinal cord injury victims dress themselves without assistance.

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